Sunday, February 26, 2006

The spoilt generation

It seems that after all my generation will be tested. The spoilt brats born in the 1950s have lived a charmed life. The challenge that they must now rise to may be less dangerous than that faced by their parents. But it is much more complex.
Michael Portillo describes how lucky his generation was. I know. Brought up in Australia, I was even luckier; it may a bit hotter than in the Hundred Aker Wood, but just as safe and even more self-contained. All questions asked could be answered on the spot. But, of course, we never asked certain questions. As Portillo points out, we've never had to go to war to defend ourselves and so were never forced into having to define ourselves. When John Howard called recently for the re-introduction of Enlightenment values into the curriculum, he was asking a lot; the teachers themselves are unaware of where we come from. If you exclude the 'cultural studies' nonsense that has been peddled as intellectual enquiry for so long. For young Australians of my generation, the only way to start this enquiry was to throw the swag over the shoulder and get out.

The shock of other peoples' lives did it for me. I remember standing on a street corner in Naples and the question coming at me from every which way: why isn't Australia like this? Why not this chaos? Why not this sense that outside the circle of your family, or your group, there was no order on which you could rely? Why not this fear of other malign powers in the land? Why not? Because Australia had been a British colony, and that was its luck. At the time, just out of university, it seemed an abomination to entertain such a thought. To place the words 'empire' and 'benefit' in the same sentence almost brought on a sense of shame. And I wondered then, and have continued to wonder since, why it was that I had to go to Naples to learn this, why the Twin Towers had to come down to remind us of the rarity of what we have had.

Yes, we were spoilt. We assumed that it was just there for us, naturally, in the course of things. Almost of necessity. But it wasn't like that at all. We forgot that it had been won at great cost, and in forgetting, the fight went out of us.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The irrationality of a conflict of beliefs

The quote below seems to me very interesting, but I'm not sure I understand it. Any help out there? I can't read German so cannot go to the source.

"Because dialogue presupposes liberalism not only in the dialogue partner, but also as the background against which such a dialogue can take place at all. But with its religious identity, Islamism has put itself on different terrain from the outset: it has made religion not only what is at stake in the conflict, but also the medium of the conflict. As a result, the West finds itself not only in an undesired friend-enemy constellation. It is also forced to defend its order like an article of faith. In short, Islamism is forcing the 'West' into the irrationality of a conflict of beliefs."

Viennese philosopher Isolde Charim, quoted on signand sight.

Rally for Denmark

Christopher Hitchens calls them out.

It doesn't look huge. It isn't the masses. But this is good. The man in the second clip says it well.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Suriani

This is a very sad story that I came across in William Dalrymle's From the Holy Mountain. It's the story of a Christian denomination I had never heard of, but which goes back to the church of Antioch, said to be the second Christian congregation after Jerusalem. Now, in the land of their founding, they are on the verge of extinction.

The story of the Suriani, or the Syriac Orthodox Church in Turkey, can be told in their demographics. At the end of the 19th Century, there were 200,000 of them. By 1920, the number had dropped to 70,000. When Dalrymple visited them in 1994, in the area of South-Eastern Turkey called Tur Abdin, there remained 900. They had founded and maintained 300 monasteries in that desolate country, including Mor Gabriel, which, dating from AD 397, is the world's oldest. Dalrymple recalls one village with 17 churches, and one inhabitant, an old priest.

The language of their liturgy is Syriac, a dialect of the Aramaic spoken by Christ and the Apostles. They had their own translation of the Bible in the second century, and very studiously collected and translated Ancient Greek texts, as well. Indeed, it was through the Suriani that the Arabs, who conquered the area in the late 7th Century, acquired the knowledge that they then passed on to the West through Spain.

They survived relatively well under the Ottomans, as second-class citizens, it is true, but able to maintain their religion, customs and language. The Ottoman state was a plunder machine for its officer class. They had no economic nous and needed their various minorities to squeeze, especially after the 17th Century when they could no longer expand militarily. The bad times arrived with the coming of the Young Turks, who wanted an homogeneous Turkey, ethnically-cleansed. “The nations that remain from the old times in our empire are akin to foreign and harmful weeds that must be uprooted," according to Dr. Behaeddin Shakir, idealogue of Ataturk's movement. They began weeding their garden in 1914. The Armenians were first. Then it was the turn of the Suriani.

The year 1915 is known in Syriac as Sayfo, or ‘(the year of the) sword’. It is not known exactly how many died. Some were just gathered up and shot; others were sent on forced marches to concentration camps in which they suffered the same fate, only more slowly. Tens of thousands of people were killed. 156 churches and monasteries were destroyed.

They did fight back. When the soldiers came for the Armenians, the Suriani knew they would be next, and made their preparations. Of all the Syriac villages in Tur Abdin, Ein Wardo was the most defensible, and so they provisioned it, and collected what arms they could find and hid them there and melted their pots to make bullets. So by the time the killings started, there was a bolt-hole ready, and they fled there and waited for the attack. Which came, in the form of 12,000 Turkish soldiers and 13,000 Kurds, who besieged the village for 3 years. The Suriani withstood the attack and slowly starved. Salvation came in the guise of Cholera, which decimated the besiegers but spared the besieged until an Imam brokered peace. Almost all the Suriani alive today are descendants of those who survived that siege of Ein Wardo, which means the 'eye of the rose' in Aramaic (and is called Gülgöze in Turkish).

According to this report, the situation of the Suriani in Turkey remained desperate until the turn of the millenium. Evidently, some of the émigré families have started to return and the children are once again able to learn their venerable liturgical tongue.

There's info about the Syriac Orthodox Church here, and about the massacres of 1915 here.


In this article in The Telegraph, Patrick Sookhdeo talks about the British government's capitulation to Islamic violence, or the threat of it.

For the past two weeks, Patrick Sookhdeo has been canvassing the opinions of Muslim clerics in Britain on the row over the cartoons...

"They think they have won the debate," he says with a sigh. "They believe that the British Government has capitulated to them, because it feared the consequences if it did not. It's confirmation of what they believe to be a familiar pattern: if spokesmen for British Muslims threaten what they call 'adverse consequences' - violence to the rest of us - then the British Government will cave in."
He goes on. While keen to promote anti-hate legislation to protect Muslims in this country, the government, following a hallowed intellectual tradition, enforces this policy only with regard to Anglo-Saxon incitement. The guiding principle is: only whites can be racist.
"...there is a book, The Noble Koran: a New Rendering of its Meaning in English, which is openly available in Muslim bookshops. It calls for the killing of Jews and Christians, and it sets out a strategy for killing the infidels and for warfare against them. The Government has done nothing whatever to interfere with the sale of that book.

Why not? Government ministers have promised to punish religious hatred, to criminalise the glorification of terrorism, yet they do nothing about this book, which blatantly does both."
He also goes into the non-integration strategy of the Islamic Council of Europe. Scott Burgess deals with this very well and does some number crunching on population statistics to see how this strategy might play out in the next few decades.

Update (13.3.06): The link is to The Telegraph above now takes you to a page empty except for the words, 'This article has been removed for legal reasons'. I don't know what those reasons are. The article is available here.

Somewhat excitable

“He is a decent, idealistic person, if somewhat excitable.”
Secretary of State in the Reich Chancery in the summer of 1932. Speaking about Hitler. Quoted in this Times article. The Secretary of State also said,
“Hitler condemns the agitation (against the Jews) totally.”

(via Ninme)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Obedience - The Milgram Experiment

You must have asked yourself the question, 'What would I have done?' As an ordinary German old enough to pull a lever in 1942. Stanley Milgram gave a possible, though very discomfiting, answer to that question in 1962. Milgram was a psychologist who performed one of the most important experiments in social psychology of the 20th Century. You will probably have heard of it. I bring it up now because I happened upon a student film made in 1997 at South Dakota State University which recreates one instance of the experiment. I've watched it 3 times now.

Here's how Stanley Milgram himself describes the procedure.

The experimenter explains that the study is concerned with the effects of punishment on learning. The learner is conducted into a room, seated in a kind of miniature electric chair, his arms are strapped to prevent excessive movement, and an electrode is attached to his wrist. He is told that he will be read lists of simple word pairs, and that he will then be tested on his ability to remember the second word of a pair when he hears the first one again. whenever he makes an error, he will receive electric shocks of increasing intensity.

The real focus of the experiment is the teacher. After watching the learner being strapped into place, he is seated before an impressive shock generator. The instrument panel consists of thirty lever switches set in a horizontal line. Each switch is clearly labeled with a voltage designation ranging from 14 to 450 volts.

At 285 volts, his response can be described only as an agonized scream. Soon thereafter, he makes no sound at all.
[The learner is a actor, and receives no shocks at all.]
The results of the first series of experiments at Harvard were a 450-volt shock to everyone involved. Milgram's colleagues were proved to be not just wildly optimistic, but almost delusional in their expectations. One, a psychiatrist, predicted that most subjects would not go beyond 150 volts, when the victim makes his first explicit demand to be freed. They expected that only 4 percent would reach 300 volts, and that only a pathological fringe of about one in a thousand would administer the highest shock on the board.

In fact, 60% of subjects took it up to the maximum. This figure proved to be the baseline; in Germany, for instance, it was 85%.

It is worth reading the all of Milgram's original Harper's Magazine article. He gives examples of people who refused to go on, as well as those that seemed to take pleasure in inflicting the punishments. The variations on the original experimental format are fascinating, too. In passing, he confirms Hannah Arendt's verdict on Adolph Eichmann as 'an uninspired bureaucrat' for whom the organisation of the most brutal crime in history was merely a matter of doing his job.

His conclusions are interesting, and believeable, as well, in that they confirm common sense.
The experimenter's physical presence has a marked impact on his authority -- Obedience dropped off sharply when orders were given by telephone.

Conflicting authority severely paralyzes actions -- When two experimenters of equal status, both seated at the command desk, gave incompatible orders, no shocks were delivered past the point of their disagreement.

The rebellious action of others severely undermines authority -- In one variation, three teachers (two actors and a real subject) administered a test and shocks. When the two actors disobeyed the experimenter and refused to go beyond a certain shock level, thirty-six of forty subjects joined their disobedient peers and refused as well.
I should say that this experiment is now showcased as unethical because of the psychological trauma suffered by the subjects. However,
84 percent of former participants surveyed later said they were "glad" or "very glad" to have participated and 15 percent chose neutral (92% of all former participants responding). Many later wrote expressing thanks. Milgram repeatedly received offers of assistance and requests to join his staff from former participants.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Baftas and cultural imperialism

A sequence of thoughts so typical of our intellectual class.
A night at the Baftas. Observed by The Guardian.

American cinema is funnier, more intelligent, provocative and entertaining, and less parochial than most British films of 2005.
Seems fairly clear, doesn't it? The American films are better; not just more popular, but better. However, ...
One of those was a Bafta given to Joe Wright, the British director of Pride & Prejudice, for his emergent talent. In his speech, he had the gumption to provide at least one subtle dig at this mean-spiritedness. The star of his film, Keira Knightley, had been bafflingly ignored for even a nomination.
Now, 'mean-spiritedness' is when the best films get the prizes, even if that doesn't please the national audience. Right? One little indication why the American films are 'less parochial', perhaps.
By contrast, Lord Puttnam's acceptance speech reminded me of the kind of self-deprecating address that the great Iceni leader Prasutagus, a staunch Roman ally, might have made to visiting Romans during their occupation. He pandered to the great and good of Hollywood almost in the way you might have thought Tony Blair did when he addressed Congress in the wake of his pact with George Bush to go to war with Iraq.
Here we get to the point. Yes, it is true that American films are better, but they are also American. And that cannot be Good, can it? Is that clear?

One further point. We know what the British tribal leaders said because Tacitus, a Roman, wrote it down, or made it up. A small point perhaps, but the British didn't write anything down, so they have left us very little. The Romans did, and have.
I realised what I had been seeing in microcosm: the triumph of American cultural imperialism. A sad reminder that we live in the modern equivalent of a Roman-occupied Britain. Prasutagus had a saving grace: one of his daughters was Boudicca. Where is her cultural equivalent now, I wonder?
No. We don't live in 'the modern equivalent of a Roman-occupied Britain'. This country gave to America even more than they have yet returned. The Ancient Britons gave very little to the Romans that wasn't dug up for better use elsewhere.

What does 'cultural imperialism' mean? That the Americans impose on us their products quite apart from their relative value? Is that what actually happens? But our writer has already said that their films are "funnier, more intelligent, provocative and entertaining". So is it that they do certain things, or even many things, better than we do? But we can't say that, can we? To say that is to claim that one culture may be better than another - a patent absurdity, as well as neo-colonialism!

Why is so much of the language of music Italian? Cultural imperialism? That's one way of putting it. You could also say that they were just better than us, and that we benefited from what they created. We took what they created, and tried to do it ourselves, the evidence for this being the words that we borrowed to help us do so. It is inelluctable that the Italians were better at making music than we were even if they also created Cesare Borgia and Benito Mussolini. One does not negate the other. Just as the Americans are better at film-making than we are with or without George Bush. If it is cultural imperialism that quality be rewarded, then let's hear it for cultural imperialism.

(via Norm)

Monday, February 20, 2006

Holocaust denial

I don't know about you, but I could not repress a smile when I read that Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk was to be charged with "the public denigration of Turkishness". "The public denigration of Turkishness" - doesn't it sound ridiculous? How could you proclaim, and then quote such a law without everyone laughing? Well, obviously, it doesn't get much of a laugh in Turkey. But it is such laws as this that tell you that there is something nasty in the dark corners of a country's past or present, and the merest whiff of them constitutes 'denigration', another way to say 'betrayal'.

Once upon a time, a law seeking to 'protect the purity of the race' would have sounded equally ridiculous. Now, it doesn't. So it is perfectly understandable why in many European countries the crime of Holocaust Denial was created and put on the statute books. It arose from a perfectly legitimate fear: take away the Holocaust, and Hitler could, for enough people to matter, be painted as a German nationalist merely reacting to the humiliation of his great country by jealous colonial powers. A new Herman, fighting off, not the Romans this time, but the slathering plutocrats of the Anglo-Saxon world, and the lowering menace of the Russian communists.

To the objection that the evidence for the Holocaust is so overwhelming as to be irrefutable, the counter-objection is, well, people can be incredibly stupid, especially when there are a lot of other needs involved. I would have thought Creationism, or Intelligent Design, the exclusive province of a few nutters, given the power of the theory of evolution to explain the world. More fool me. For many people do feel a very strong need for the certainty of absolute rulers, for a sense of unalienable superiority, for someone to be permanently lower on the pecking order than they are. So the law is understandable.

However, it makes me feel very uncomfortable, especially in these weeks of the Attack on the Khartoons. A law against Holocaust denial is censorship. However much it can be justified, it is censorship. And censorship is always an admission of weakness. Now the weakness here may be that of human nature and European history, but it is also cultural weakness. It is like an admission that the alternative point of view (that the Holocaust did happen) cannot be defended adequately. Deborah Lipstadt, the woman who destroyed David Irving in court, said as much. "I am not happy when censorship wins, and I don't believe in winning battles via censorship... The way of fighting Holocaust deniers is with history and with truth."

David Irving is a deeply unpleasant individual, but his proposition that the Holocaust did not occur is just that - a proposition, and therefore refutable. Let it be scornfully dismissed with facts, documents and (dear god) human remains, and then it is a false proposition on the same level as 'the Earth is flat'. The question of free speech is so important at the moment, its defence as the foundation of our form of government, or any reasonable form of government, is so urgent that laws against opinion do nothing so much as undermine the very system they seek to defend. I believe the crime of Holocaust Denial should be expunged and the opinion left to be dealt with as other opinions are.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Another fatwa. Another bomb.

Iran's hardline spiritual leaders have issued an unprecedented new fatwa, or holy order, sanctioning the use of atomic weapons against its enemies.
Why would they need to do that?
"When the entire world is armed with nuclear weapons, it is permissible to use these weapons as a counter-measure. According to Sharia too, only the goal is important."Mohsen Gharavian, a disciple of the ultra-conservative Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi, widely regarded as the cleric closest to Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Now, of course, this might be a cunning trick to raise the stakes and gain a bargaining chip in upcoming negotiations. Then again, it might not.

From The Telegraph. Via Harry.

Flemming Rose speaks

Flemming Rose, the Cultural Editor of the newspaper that published the Khartoons, in an article in the Washington Post explains the background. It was a reaction to an growing cloud of self-censorship in all of Europe, and given the actions of many media outlets since, a very pointed and apt one.

At the end of September, a Danish standup comedian said in an interview with Jyllands-Posten that he had no problem urinating on the Bible in front of a camera, but he dared not do the same thing with the Koran.

This was the culmination of a series of disturbing instances of self-censorship. Last September, a Danish children's writer had trouble finding an illustrator for a book about the life of Muhammad. Three people turned down the job for fear of consequences. The person who finally accepted insisted on anonymity, which in my book is a form of self-censorship. European translators of a critical book about Islam also did not want their names to appear on the book cover beside the name of the author, a Somalia-born Dutch politician who has herself been in hiding.

Around the same time, the Tate gallery in London withdrew an installation by the avant-garde artist John Latham depicting the Koran, Bible and Talmud torn to pieces. The museum explained that it did not want to stir things up after the London bombings. (A few months earlier, to avoid offending Muslims, a museum in Goteborg, Sweden, had removed a painting with a sexual motif and a quotation from the Koran.)

Finally, at the end of September, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen met with a group of imams, one of whom called on the prime minister to interfere with the press in order to get more positive coverage of Islam.

So, over two weeks we witnessed a half-dozen cases of self-censorship, pitting freedom of speech against the fear of confronting issues about Islam. This was a legitimate news story to cover, and Jyllands-Posten decided to do it by adopting the well-known journalistic principle: Show, don't tell.
He also recounts his experience of totalitarian systems; once again, very apt.
As a former correspondent in the Soviet Union, I am sensitive about calls for censorship on the grounds of insult. This is a popular trick of totalitarian movements: Label any critique or call for debate as an insult and punish the offenders. That is what happened to human rights activists and writers such as Andrei Sakharov, Vladimir Bukovsky, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Natan Sharansky, Boris Pasternak. The regime accused them of anti-Soviet propaganda, just as some Muslims are labeling 12 cartoons in a Danish newspaper anti-Islamic.

The lesson from the Cold War is: if you give in to totalitarian impulses once, new demands follow. The West prevailed in the Cold War because we stood by our fundamental values and did not appease totalitarian tyrants.

Well, a lot of us did, and do, but let's leave that one for the moment.

(via Tim Blair)

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Islam unites estranged brothers!!!

This is too good to miss.

Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front is poised to strike an alliance with France’s large immigrant Muslim community.
The socialists in Britain; the fascists in France; the Islamists in both. What has brought them together? Isn't it obvious? The Jews and the Americans. Islam unites the Left and the Right. Together, what do they offer the world? Well, they all hate the Jews and the Americans. In addition, ...
(Read more at Tim Blair)

Cartoon fun

Very good cartoon about our Khartooms.
(via Tim Blair)

The Threat of the West (to itself)

Keith Windschuttle in this address is speaking about the attack on the West by Westerners, by intellectuals and academics so stuck in the radicalism of another time that they are capable of the most absurd assertions.

This is Sunera Thobani, former president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women. Women must, she said just after 9/11,

reject this kind of jingoistic militarism and recognise that as the most heinous form of patriarchal racist violence that we're seeing on the globe today… There will be no emancipation for women anywhere on this planet until the Western domination of this planet is ended.
Presumably, it would be the Islamists who would enact this emancipation for women.

He gives a very good example of the self-hate and sloppy thinking that dominate our universities: the end of Aboriginal society in Tasmania. If you asked most people, they would probably say that the British settlers slaughtered them. And it is not a huge step from that to speak of genocide. In fact,
The Australian academic journal Aboriginal History in 2001 published a special “genocide” edition. In their introduction, the editors argued that European colonialism was an even more intrinsically genocidal process than that of Nazi Germany...

The worst-case scenario in Australia is widely regarded as the island of Tasmania, where a Black War was supposedly fought in the 1820s and 1830s and where the last full-blood Aboriginal person died in 1888, though significant numbers of part Aboriginal descendants survive to this day. The historian Lyndall Ryan says in her 1981 book The Aboriginal Tasmanians that they were the victims of “a conscious policy of genocide”. This is the orthodox opinion among Australian academics.

In 2001 and 2002 I undertook the task of checking the footnotes of the major authors on Tasmania to verify their original sources, I found to my surprise that their interpretation of frontier warfare and genocide was based on invented incidents, concocted footnotes, altered documents and gross exaggeration of the Aboriginal death toll. I could find credible evidence that white settlers had killed a total of 121 Aborigines, mostly in self defence or in hot pursuit of Aborigines who had killed or assaulted white settlers. The rest of the population of about 2000 natives had died from diseases to which their long isolation on their island had given them no immunity, principally influenza, pneumonia and tuberculosis. On top of this, venereal disease rendered most of the women infertile.

The Tasmanian colony had been founded in 1803 in the middle of the British campaign to end the slave trade. Its longest-serving governor was George Arthur, a supporter of William Wilberforce, and who in his previous post in British Honduras had set the colony's indigenous slaves free. His sensitivity to the native question, in fact, was what got him the job in Australia. He wanted to civilize and modernize the Aborigines, not exterminate them. His intentions were not to foster violence towards the Aborigines but to prevent it. The charge of genocide is not only wrong, it is maliciously wrong — the defamation of a good man and a wilful misrepresentation of the truth.
A footnote that will not amaze American readers:
the assertion by the editors of Aboriginal History that the British settler societies were more intrinsically genocidal than Nazi Germany was based on an analysis of colonialism by Ward Churchill of the University of Colorado.
He passes on, via Rushdie, Ibn Warraq and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, to the cartoon ruckus.
Muslim rage over the cartoons is not an isolated issue that would have been confined to Denmark and would have gone away if nobody had republished them. It is simply one more step in a campaign that has already included assassination, death threats and the curtailment of criticism. And our response, yet again, has been one more white flag in the surrender of Western cultural values that we have been making since Khomeini's fatwa against Rushdie in 1989.

Knowledge of History

This article by Anthony O'Hear in The Telegraph presents the normal argument for studying history: that without knowledge of where things began, it is much more difficult to deal with their consequences.

One small and topical example of this:

The Crusades were not, as is often implied by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, a unique moment of anti-Islamic aggression. They were actually but one blip in the astonishing growth of Islamic empires in Europe and elsewhere, from the time of Mohammed onwards, right up to 1683 when the Turks were turned back from the gates of Vienna and 1686 when they were expelled from Budapest.
Just to ram home the point: the Arab invasions began in 634 with the conquest of Palestine and Syria; the First Crusade occurred in 1095-1099, by which time Spain had been in Arab hands for over three and a half centuries. The Crusades were a response to Muslim aggression, and not some uniquely Western will to power and dominance.
O'Hear is especially worried with regard to classical history because all of Europe's greatest periods of achievement coincide with a revival or re-evaluation of Rome and Greece. Of course, it is much easier to do Cultural Studies, which confer on you, without very much effort on your part, not only the pleasure of flip dismissals of everything around you, but an irresistible aura of self-righteousness to go with it.

Friday, February 17, 2006

We will follow ours

From an excellent speech by Keith Windschuttle, of which more tomorrow.

He recounts the story of Sir Charles Napier, the British Commander-in-chief in India from 1849 to 1851. In an agreement he made with local Hindu leaders, he promised that the British would not interfere with their way of life in any way. Except for suttee. They were upset. They didn't accuse him of cultural imperialism or of racism (lack of a modern education), but they did point out forcefully that this was an ancient and hallowed practice. He replied as follows.

You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.
Do you think this attitude might be applicable to modern times? Notwithstanding the fact that he was undoubtedly a wicked, Western imperialist, and male to boot, might we not learn a little from his tolerance and the limits to his tolerance?

Slaughter and sacrifice; celebrities and gadgets

You know that feeling you get, where it's not as if anything has changed in what you fundamentally value, or even that you value it less, but the strength has gone from your arms and your sinews have gone slack, and the synapses inside your skull no longer recognise dopamine and all you can say or think about anything is 'so what?'.

Want a dose? Read this by John Derbyshire. It's on his own site, maybe because NRO still has some will to live, if only to insult Hilary Clinton.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Alternatives to capitalism

Norm has a post about a lecture given by Erik Olin Wright on Socialist alternatives to capitalism. He summarises Wright's critique of capitalism.

The basis for claiming that we need to look for alternatives to capitalism included (from my notes again, though there is a similar list in the paper linked to) that capitalism perpetuates eliminable forms of human suffering, blocks human flourishing, perpetuates deficits in individual freedom and autonomy, violates liberal principles of social justice, is inefficient, is environmentally destructive, and limits democracy.
Now Norm has forgotten more about the history and makeup of idealogies than I'll ever know. However, I would just ask this. If we accept that capitalism is guilty of the crimes listed above, what system in history has ever done better in those areas? What system has created more and delivered more to a greater number of people? Of course, if you compare it to what we can imagine, it is criminally inadequate. But, then, so is all of history, all of what has actually happened. However, compared to every other system that has clawed its way into bloody existence, capitalism has done pretty well. Together with liberal politics, it is the most 'adult' system ever: by 'adult', I mean that it leaves more to individual autonomy and choice; the state as a withdrawn authority; the citizen as the judge of its performance (just the things we are most in danger of losing in the present climate). Socialism, for the very reason that it seeks as a system to make the citizen's life better, fails and must fail to do just that because it takes away from the citizen the power and autonomy to do what only the citizen can do.

Golden pages of history

This is so sad and hysterically funny. It inspires pity and fear.

Rome as an idea

More thoughts from Boris Johnson.

He tells a story of Romulus that I didn't know. After the founding (21st of April, 753BC, probably at last orders), Romulus put out word that Rome was a place of asylum for anybody that wished it. So of course he got criminals, slaves, exiles and refugees. The point is that the Roman would not be defined by blood and lineage, or even by geography. It was an idea.

Which is exactly how Bernard-Henri Lévy described the United States. (From a previous post)

America gives the French right "nightmares," as the country is based on "a social contract. America proves that people can gather at a given moment and decide to form a nation, even if they come from different places."
This became particularly important quite a few centuries after Romulus. The basic glue of the empire was citizenship. Not only was it desirable for the benefits it gave, but it was (eventually) available to all. The fact that the Romans were constitutionally and psychologically able to offer citizenship to all and sundry is an extraordinary and telling fact. You may have been defeated in battle, but you didn't have to live the rest of your life with mud up your nose. There was a way out and up.

For the central power, this is a great boon. It means you are able to take in raw talent from so many more sources, especially when the home-grown variety becomes weedy. So you get Seneca, Lucan, Martial, Hadrian (one of the truly great emperors), Diocletian and Septimus Severus, an African (like St Augustan) from Libya, who became first a general and then an emperor (and who died in York).

This country, too, continues to profit from the talent of the 'fringes'. Just look at the writers in English from India, Africa and the Caribbean, not to mention the medical and scientific imports. The complexity and breadth of successful empires gives talent a far greater stage on which to strut, to the benefit of both the imperial power and its (ex-)colonies.

The West as cradle for political Islam

I realise that I am getting very repetitive, but Amir Taheri is invaluable.

Here he is on the reasons for the radical politisation of Islam in the West. He quotes Azam Tamimi, a pro-Hamas British Muslim scholar.

"We have no religious grievances in this country. Here we can practise our religion with more freedom than in any Muslim-ruled country. It is therefore natural that we should focus on political rather than religious issues."
Yes. Quite. We have more religious and political freedom here that in our countries of origin, therefore we try to undermine the very structure that gives us those freedoms. Life is so difficult to understand, don't you find?
Taheri gives three reasons for this politisation.
The first is that Muslims in the West come from a wide variety of ethnic, sectarian and cultural backgrounds. Many have long histories of sectarian feuds in their homelands. Since those feuds cannot be continued here they tend to minimise the religious aspects of Islam and emphasise the political themes that can unite them.
For example, no Sunni Muslims could ever agree with a Qaderi or a Jaafari Muslim on key theological issues. But all three hate gay marriages and can unite in a march against Israel.
If the Jews didn't exist, yah dee yah dee
The second reason is that the public expression of Islam is controlled by political groups and parties that are often banned in the Muslim world itself...There are more than 400 Islamic associations and societies in Britain operating through some 2,000 mosques. But scratch any one of them and you will find that it is, in fact, a cover for a political movement.
Then we get to the really funny bit. Islam and the Left.
Today political Islam and the British extreme left are in coalition in a number of organisations, including the anti-war alliance. Muslims provide the street muscle and the "poor masses" that the traditionally atheistic extreme left lacks. In exchange the extreme left puts its experience in militant politics at the service of political Islam. Hatred of "bourgeois democracy", anti-Americanism and opposition to Israel provide the unifying factors of this unnatural alliance.
Well, I suppose that's what happens when History's vanguard ends up eating History's dust.

One quibble. Taheri's call for Muslims to recognise the difference between religious and political concerns does seem a little disingenuous. Is not this the evolutionary stage that Islam has never passed through? Is is not true that Sharia recognises no possibility of an overarching secular law? And that political Islam is seen, and probably is, the only means to acquire power that most Muslims have since they produce nothing else of economic or cultural value? The separation of their religion and politics is devoutly to be wished, but it is hardly there for the asking. It is difficult to see how it can happen without substantial civil development. But like Winnie-the-Pooh, the more they (and we) look for it, the more it isn't there.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

It's in the Koran - Censored?

Has Google been firebombed? Its employees beheaded? Funny (peculiar) goings-on with a funny (Ha-ha) video file created by Patrick Henry and featuring his song, It's in the Koran.

Until a few days ago, it was here. Now, it isn't. Nor is it on several other sites that were hosting it. Patrick Henry himself sends you here to download it, but I have tried several times and just got error messages.

Only Little Green Footballs seems to be holding the fort.

(via Ninme)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Better off in Syria

Another view of Syria.

“Christians are better off in Syria than anywhere else in the Middle East. Other than Lebanon, this is the only country in the region where a Christian can really feel the equal of a Muslim – and Lebanon, of course, has other problems. In Syria, there is no enmity between Christians and Muslims. If Syria were not here, we would be finished. Really. It is a place of sanctuary, a haven for all Christians: for the Nestorians and Chaldeans driven out of Iraq; for the Syrian Orthodox and Armenians driven out of Turkey; even some Palestinian Christians driven out of the Holy Land by the Israelis.”
The Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan of Aleppo, quoted in From the Holy Mountain, William Dalrymple (p150)

Christians were welcomed in Syria after the First World War because the French had control. After independence, the Muslims, until then largely excluded from power, began to agitate for an Islamic state. Many Christians fled, However, in 1970, there was a coup d'état, led by Assad Senior. He was from a minor Muslim sect, the Alawites, regarded by the Sunnis as little better than Christians. His power base became the non-Sunni minorities, including the Shi’ites, Druze, Yezidis and Christians, who are therefore once again welcome. This will hardly count when the crunch comes, but I don't think there's much doubt about what type of government Syria will land if/when Assad Junior falls, or what the fate of those minorities will be.

Monday, February 13, 2006


Another excellent essay by Amir Taheri. He describes a split between the religion Islam, and the political movement, Islam. He traces the origin of the political line to Jamaleddin Assadabadi, a Persian adventurer who

disguised himself as an Afghan to hide his Shiite origin and set out to build a career in the mostly Sunni land of Egypt. Although a Freemason, Jamal (who dubbed himself Sayyed Gamal) concluded that the only way to win power among Muslims was by appealing to their religious sentiments.
His slogan was,
"Tell the Muslims something is in the Koran, and they will die for you."
According to Taheri, what he started had, by the end of the 19th Century, mutated into Salafism, whose violence throughout the 20th Century had little success in the Middle East. However,
Salafism's biggest successes have come in the West — where the emergence of large communities of Muslims has created a space in which neo-Islam can thrive.
This new space is of crucial importance for two reasons.

* It allows Salafism to promote its ideas and recruit militants in freedom — something not possible in most Muslim countries, where local despots won't tolerate any breach of their control of the public space.

* Muslims living in the West have no first-hand experience of the intolerance and terror that neo-Islam has practiced in Muslim countries for decades. Instead, they see Islam as an element of their identity and, although seldom going to the mosque, consider neo-Islamist militants as "lobbyists" for themselves.
These Salafis are not just small-minded bigots. They are willing to learn, even from us.
Anxious to control its constituency within Western democracies, neo-Islam, in its different versions, uses tactics developed by other totalitarian ideologies, notably fascism and communism.

Its first move was to promote a visual apartheid to distinguish its adherents from the rest of society — in the same way that Lenin, Hitler and Mao wanted their followers to wear specific uniforms.
That's Phase 1.
Once visual apartheid is achieved, the neo-Islamist moves to Phase Two: making his followers brain-dead. This is done by persuading them that there is a unique Islamic answer to all questions ever asked or ever to be asked. The idea is that, as Maudoodi (the "Lenin of Islam") believed, Islam was sent by God to turn men into robots obeying divine rules as spelled out by the sheiks.

Maudoodi claimed that, when God created man, He made His creature's biological existence subject to "unquestionable laws." Yet God failed to to apply the same rule to man's spiritual, political and cultural existence. Realizing His mistake, God sent Mohammed to preach Islam, which provides the "unquestionable laws" needed for the non-material aspects of man's existence.
Taheri has some kind words to say about Mohammed, as well. Obviously a multi-faceted bloke, this prophet. Someone should make a film about him.

Point(s) of view

Boris Johnson talks about the single viewpoint created across the Roman Empire by Augustus. The man sure had high rolling PR: Virgil, Horace, Propertius, but, though Boris doesn't mention it, there must have been similar stuff at all levels, right down to the most tawdry souvenirs, pamphlets, charms, etc. As an example, he gives the Battle of Actium, when Antony and Cleopatra turned and fled leaving the field (waters) and the empire to Augustus.

For a decade and a half before that, Antony had been the supremo in the East, and it is conceivable that the empire could have been split in two. There must have been an Antonian propaganda machine, another way of looking at things, but it was disassembled and junked way back then when Augustus was sewing up the future. So now we have the Great Roman brought low by lust; the scheming but oh-so-alluring Eastern whore befuddling his senses and fatally undermining his manhood. The Augustan Team did their job well; now there really is basically just one way of seeing the Battle of Actium and much else of that time. ('History will judge us kindly', Churchill told Roosevelt and Stalin at the Tehran Conference in 1943. How could he be so sure? 'Because I shall write the history'.)

Boris asks, Will the French and the British ever have the same view of Waterloo? It seems doubtful. As a demonstration of goodwill ("Call me an idealist"), he suggests that, to start building that Common European Point of View, every schoolchild by the age of 16 should have read Book IV of the Aeniad. That's the one when Aeneas walks out on Dido. (I wonder what the subsidies to maintain a Common European Point of View would amount to over the decades, and what its effect would be on Third World literature. Would it come under the jurisdiction of the WTO?)

But there's work to do at a much lower level than the European Union. One of the most striking aspects of Italian political life is the number of 'mysteries' still unresolved after 10, 20, 40 years. Put 'misteri d'Italia' into Google and you get 200,000 sites. Open the first, and the front page lists 27, though one of those includes "8 massacres; 150 dead; 39 trials". Britain is such a tame place. I'm sure that those who are keen on such things could find a few, but they would never compare in scale or depth to the Italian collection.

I wonder if this, too, isn't a question of points of view. The UK has been politically stable for many centuries, and its institutions are relatively well-established and trusted. There is one goverment, and generally, there is a broad consensus on most things. The death of David Kelly, for instance, was potentially a fertile ground for conspiracy cultivation, but once the official inquiry was completed, talk died down very quickly. This doesn't seem to be the case in Italy.

My hypothesis is that, at least in part, Italy is rich in mysteries because it does not have a single source of authority. There are too many 'active agents' and too many well-established powers away from the centre. The big split, of course, is that between the Church and the State, about which you could refill the sea with speculation. Then there are the para-military powers of the Mafia in Sicily, 'Ndrangeta around Naples, La Sacra Corona in Apulia so 'interpenetrated' (forgive me) with the State that it is unlikely that any of us will live to see their end. Not too speak of the entirely legitimate regionalism of the country, or provincialism, or parochialism - for the visitor, one of the glories of Italy, but an impenetrable block on the road to unity. Mussolini said once, "It isn't difficult to rule Italy. It's useless." Could it be that one of the gifts of stability is this single authority that imposes on reality a 'single point of view'. I'm not saying it is necessarily the truth. However, it functions as such, and in so doing saves a lot of time.


One of the many problems with Life, but not with stories, is that you can't stop it. But, how would it be if, face-to-indifferent-face with catastrophe, you just stopped, and said, 'Right. Just hold it there!'? Everything stops. Birds become blots in the air, and the wind at your back is stilled. The river is a frozen slick and the ocean is just paint on the sky. The sun no longer burns, though light hangs flabby in the air.

You step back in this shabbylight. One step, two, three. How far back will you have to go before you can discern the turn-off to catastrophe? And when you start forward again, how forceful will the propulsion towards it be? Will you be able to summon the will sufficient to deviate from that onrush once it begins again? If not, will you stop and try again? And again? Would this absolute liberty, power over all, become just a variant on the castigation of Sisyphus?

Saturday, February 11, 2006


I've just started Boris Johnson's The Dream of Rome, and I thought you might like a taster.

He tells the story of one of greatest military disasters in Roman history, the battle known as the Teutoburg Forest, in which Publius Quinctilius Varus lost three entire legions to the German tribes under Arminius. Evidently, the German women would hang around just behind the lines ready to move in and strip the bodies of the fallen enemy of anything that could be used or swapped. However, they had another function.

If a barbarian retreated or was beaten back, it was standard for the wives to bare their breasts in a kind of Sun Page Three exhortation to the troops. 'This is what you are fighting for!' they would cry, and the barbarian would pick up his sword or axe, wipe the blood from his nose, thank the girl for reminding him and run back to battle.
Typical Boris Johnson, as is his explanation for not addressing himself before now to the great question of how Rome unified Europe (and, presumably, why it can't be done now).
Much of my university career was spent, alas, in dissolution of one kind or another.

There are sure to be more treats in store.

The 10 Commandments (revised and forwarded)

by Big Pharoah
A sample? Commandment number 8.

Thou shall not boycott an entire nation because a single newspaper, TV channel, radio station, politician, actor, actress, etc, etc, in that nation said or wrote or drew something that offended you. Why? Because its stupid and childish to do so and it further hurts your image.

(via Instapundit)

Friday, February 10, 2006

The wondrous weapon: Islamic violence

What a weapon! What an army! You can't outgun it - it's bigger than any weapon ever made. You can't sabotage it - it has no vital parts. You can't protect its targets - there are as many targets as it decides. It needs no special ammunition. Its strikepower is infinitely adaptable. When it strikes it never misses because even if its target remains standing, in striking it has replicated itself by inspiring others. It has no structure to be crippled nor supply lines to be disrupted. It needs only air to breathe, words to focus it and a brotherhood to recognise it.

The creation of the modern terrorist must be one of the most curious cases of social pathology in history. To have turned the self-disgust of the flagellati outwards and to have propagated like a computer virus so that there are no fences facin' surely marks a unique phenomenon. The rage of the political revolutionary turned back to its religious sources and magnified like AIDS returning to Africa. And it is a rage that is forever fuelled - by the feelings of cultural inadequacy before a world so shaped by the great adversary that even its victims depend completely on the very structure that humiliates them.

What a weapon! It can be put to so many uses. If Amir Tahiri is right, and what he says makes sense, this latest worldwide tantrum was egged on by Iran and Syria for very immediate and strictly political purposes. Iran because it is about to be reported to the UN Security Council; Syria because the UN is wants to question Bashar al-Assad, his relatives and aides about the Hariri assassination and the Security Council will soon decide how to bring this about. And ... the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council is about to pass to Denmark.

These two only saw their chance after the first well-scripted shouts were hurled in the streets. For several months, Sunni-Salafi groups from Denmark and other European countries had been trying to spark 'mass Muslim anger' into a conflagration, but had had only limited success. Damascus and Tehran were able to offer offended Muslims on demand.

The resentments and anger conjured for various reasons into street violence is different only in degree and application to that which puts bombs in market places. This wondrous weapon can create instant icons of victory and it can also bully and intimidate, strike repeatedly locally and internationally to crack and crumble its enemy's self-confidence. Which brings us to ... us.

Thankfully, there has not been unanimous pusillanimity this time round. But reaction among the usual appeasers is instructive and illustrates beautifully the immense power of the wondrous weapon. They use phrases such as 'common sense', 'a sense of restraint', 'respect' and 'compromise'; all laudably adult and reasonable. Is it not reasonable to give a little in order to get a little? We agree not to do or say certain things and they agree not to burn down buildings or chop our heads off. That's fair, isn't it?

No. Because it is giving in to intimidation.
No. Because it means one rule for a them, another for us.
No. Because it would not be a compromise but a surrender; it would be submission.
No. Because it would be the first of many such demands.

Tony Blair said today at the opening of the Labour Party Conference,

Freedom of speech is an ancient British liberty, but it should be exercised with responsibility because if it isn't, another ancient liberty, the right to life, is put at risk, and that cannot be right.
Now I would hope that he is referring here to what certain mullahs say in their mosques. But maybe not. Maybe he's got 12 cartoons and a handful of newspaper editors in his mind. In any case, this is the sort of thing that many other commentators have muttered with regard to the cartoon fuss. And what does it actually mean? That we must only say that will not cause us to be threatened. Who decides what that is? The ones doing the threatening. The lot who believe in the subjugation of civil society to religious authority, in the inferiority of the female, and the further inferiority of non-believers.

Freedom of speech is a political right exercised in order to control political power, both constrained by the law. The limits placed on freedom of speech cannot be decided on the streets according to who is most willing to dole out violence. They cannot be decided by a minority whose fundamental political position is a negation of that freedom.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

No debate. No question.

A bit late with this one. I haven't been keeping up with Dorothy King. My loss.

She writes about places where you can only think one way; you can only say certain things; your support and opposition must be entirely predictable. Do not question. Our universities.

A documentary by Evan Maloney, Brainwashing 101, has demonstrated how unwelcome anyone with non-leftwing views is made to feel in US universities these days - one professor was told she would not have been hired had they known she was a Republican. Leftwing anthropologists outnumber rightwing ones 30-to-one in US universities; with politics professors the ratio is almost seven to one. We are rapidly moving towards the one-party campus, and universities where you can only belong to the left are as dangerous as those where you could only belong to the Nazi party.

Ecology is a prime example of a field in which extremism rules. Anyone who questions the doomsday scenarios is labelled ignorant. Bjorn Lomborg, a leftwing Danish professor, set his students a project - to check the facts of a writer who had argued against the likelihood of ecological apocalypse. Mr Lomborg was shocked to discover that many ecological theories were based on estimates rather than statistics, and went on to write his book The Sceptical Environmentalist. Still an environmentalist by any assessment, he is now reviled for having pointed out that the Earth is not about to self-destruct next week. Worse, he gathered a group (including three Nobel laureates) to form the Copenhagen Consensus, which argues that fighting disease is more important than implementing the Kyoto protocol. When his research and statistics stood up to every onslaught, he became the subject of personal attacks.
She also speaks about the DDT ban, the promotion of generic drugs in the Third World, and the link between cancer and the pill. On the last.
I mentioned the theory of a possible link between hormones, oral contraception and cervical cancer at the dinner and was screamed at by an American academic: apparently I risked setting back women's rights 100 years. Her idea of debate was to throw bread in my direction and to refuse to listen to contrary arguments. An ardent feminist, she thought she could help women with cervical cancer by yelling.

The people present that evening were all very intelligent, but they questioned surprisingly little. Just expressing the "right" opinions gave them a sense of moral superiority. If such people are shaping our future, we're in trouble. If we stifle debate - from the left or the right - we are no better than totalitarian regimes such as the Nazis.
Does this remind you of another topic in the smoke-filled air at the moment to do with Danes and cartoons, though the representatives of Right Thinking in this case are not throwing bread?

Arab performance

Ninme has dug out a report published in 2002 by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). There's a lot in it, but one thing that stood out for me was what it had to say about knowledge (the report identifies 3 great 'deficits': freedom, knowledge and womanpower). It is the figure it gives for the number of translations made into Arabic. the 1,000 years since the reign of the Caliph Mamoun, say the authors, the Arabs have translated as many books as Spain translates in one year.
One of the most telling signs of a culture's growth is the quantity of knowledge it seeks, its hunger for new sources of information. The number of translations is not an infallible one. For instance, compared to many cultures, English translates little, but that is because it is the main scientific and academic language. This is not the case for the major European languages; the figure for Italian, for example, is something like 30%. It must have been similar in this country in the 16th century when we had to catch up with Italy and France, when the trickle of Latin and Greek loanwords became a flood.

The following quote is given in the same paragraph of the report summary.
“If God were to humiliate a human being,” wrote Imam Ali bin abi Taleb in the sixth century, “He would deny him knowledge.”
What sort of education is it that young Arabs receive?
From their schooldays onwards, Arabs are instructed that they should not defy tradition, that they should respect authority, that truth should be sought in the text and not in experience. Fear of fawda (chaos) and fitna (schism) are deeply engrained in much Arab-Islamic teaching. “The role of thought”, wrote a Syrian intellectual “is to explain and transmit...and not to search and question.”
via Ninme

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The British Empire ... not long enough

Mark Steyn with some familiar sentiments on the British Empire and constitution

...Simone Weil, the Parisian author and sometime Jew/Marxist/anarchist who came to Britain during the war to work for the Free French ... pondered why, alone among the European powers, it was England that had maintained "a centuries-old tradition of liberty guaranteed by the authorities." She was struck ... "by the fact that in the British Constitution the chief power is vested in one who is all but powerless, the monarch."
...and some less familiar ones.
Indeed, if you step back, one way to look at the "war on terror" is as a belated civil war within the British Empire -- at any rate between the Anglosphere core (America, Britain, Australia, India) and a dysfunctional periphery (Gaza, the Pakistani tribal lands, the Sunni triangle), or between those territories that enjoyed the full attentions of the mother country and those it acquired in the Versailles settlement -- the last flickering fag-end of imperial expansion...Alas, for them, for their subjects and for the world today, when they finally got their hands on the Middle East, British imperialism had dwindled down to its bare bones: import some Hashemite prince, create a phony-baloney kingdom for him, and retreat to your bases.

"Liberty guaranteed by the authorities". Hmm.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Commemorate by not remembering

If ever you feel that it's all just too complex to untangle and it's nothing but congestion of the country and the soul from now on and you daydream of becoming Winnie-the-Pooh, read something like this, and thank whatever deity you prefer or have created that you were not born in Hungary. A taster.

The enthusiasm of the Hungarians is always short-lived. Foreigners see this as perhaps their most characteristic trait. Together with the way they cry at parties. And curse fate, bent over the table.

But instead of entering the murky waters of the national character and the soul of the people, let us rather concentrate on Hungary's peculiar brand of communal national remembrance – this memory without remembering, the fact that in Hungarian history, strangely, the way memory works is by blocking out precisely that which is to be commemorated.

Remembering meant suppressing memory. In other words: the more deformed the memory, the more truthful it appeared.

This was occasioned by the 50th anniversary of the 1956 uprising. (Highlighting in original)

Ayaan Hirsi Ali and George Szirtes

It the ones who have had to fight for it that really appreciate it. Those not to the manna born. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, for one.

SPIEGEL: But Muslims, like any religious community, should also be able to protect themselves against slander and insult.

Hirsi Ali: That's exactly the reflex I was just talking about: offering the other cheek. Not a day passes, in Europe and elsewhere, when radical imams aren't preaching hatred in their mosques. They call Jews and Christians inferior, and we say they're just exercising their freedom of speech. When will the Europeans realize that the Islamists don't allow their critics the same right? After the West prostrates itself, they'll be more than happy to say that Allah has made the infidels spineless.
And for another, George Szirtes.

In fact this is not about Muslims or Islam. It is about us and our assumptions, principles, integrity, and our long struggles to achieve such rights as we have achieved, rights we generally think worth having struggled for. And here I mean 'rights' as enshrined in laws, not manners, or habits of address or respect. ...
I would of course prefer an ethos of respect and politeness. But when it comes to the very principles of European liberty I want firmness and the determination to yield not an inch of vital life-giving ground.
Enough about this. It has brought to the fore a great question. Are we Europeans prepared to fight, not for our holidays, or electronic fun machines, or the article of faith that it's got to be right for me, but for the achievements of so many before us, and the greatest of which is, not love, but freedom? Will we give over apologising for having achieved so much, or will we shrink from the spitting rage that we're faced with? It doesn't require violence or chauvinism or the old Bolschevic demonisation of some group or other (no matter how much they might do it); it just requires self-knowledge, honesty and confidence.

(via Harry's Place)

Hamas: the real level of its support

Amir Taheri corrects the impression the Hamas have majority support in the Palistinian Authority. Hamas's 74 out of 132 seats in the National Assembly should not be extrapolated into a proportion of national backing. 49 of those seats were district constituencies and most of them from Gaza.

Hamas' strong showing at the district level was largely due to its well-entrenched presence in Gaza, where voter turnout was 81 percent. As Hamas' base, Gaza has always been inhospitable territory to secular parties, including President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah. Thanks to Gaza, Hamas won almost 44 percent of the district-level votes.

At the national level, however, Hamas collected just over 36 percent of the votes. Taking the two levels together, Hamas won only 40 percent of the popular vote — which means that 60 percent of the Palestinians voted against it.
He points to other strong parlamentary showings by Islamic parties similarly based on relatively narrow popular support.
...four years ago in Turkey, [..] the Justice and Development (AK) Party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan won two-thirds of the seats in the National Assembly with a third of the votes. Before that, the Front for Islamic Salvation (FIS) had been poised to win two-thirds of the seats in Algeria's general election in 1991, again with a third of the votes.
Conclusion? The Hamas Charter may well not be a reliable basis for a forecast on what they will try to do in power. Dose of optimism for the day.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The cartoons and appeasement

What Jyllands-Posten did was to publish something it knew would provoke Muslims (though it had no idea how much) in order to flaunt its own "liberal" credentials. That was unforgivable.

In short, both these ancient societies are struggling through a crisis of identity. And to assert that identity, marshalled round its supposed core value of tolerance, it has seemed necessary to show intolerance to others who are different. But is this anxiety really about Islam, its dislike of criticism or resistance to Enlightenment liberalism? Or is it, at root, no more than the hostility of a tightly-knit community to strangers who have arrived to share the family home? Jyllands-Posten suggests that its main concern has been for freedom and democracy. I doubt that. It has certainly damaged both of them.
This is Neal Ascherson on openDemocracy. In his view, once again, it is basically our (the Dane's, the West's) fault. Yes, he acknowledges the "manipulated outrage" in the reaction of those Muslims on the street, but applies the epithet equally to westerners who shout out about freedom of speech. And in the end (the second paragraph above is his last), it comes down to the Danes getting jumpy, and so hostile. That's the problem!

I can see some sense in the argument that you don't throw squibs onto the embers of a fire if you want a quiet night's sleep. On utilitarian grounds, it is a reasonable view. Ascherson believes that the newspaper was after a bit of fuss. I confess, I don't know. However, the point is that we are being pushed into a corner by tantrums, and that we are already having to trim our expressed opinions so as not to provoke yet another tantrum. The public sphere is impoverished. Can you imagine the BBC, or any other broadcaster daring to put on screen something even far milder than Jerry Springer, but directed at Islam. There is no way. But it's all our fault. The old appeasers' kneejerk reaction. They do ill, therefore we are bad.

The free society is its procedures

Oliver Kamm makes a fundamental distinction, one that is too often forgotten.

The defence of a free society is the defence of its procedures, not its output. Some of that output will be offensive and much will be valueless. We have a right to criticise it, and a moral obligation never, never to complain that our hurt feelings require its suppression.

(via Samizdata)

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Support Denmark

This image, and others, are available from The Dissident Frogman.

Be proud, do not apologize.

Ibn Warraq in Der Spiegel.

Are we in the west going to cave into pressure from societies with a medieval mindset, or are we going to defend our most precious freedom -- freedom of expression, a freedom for which thousands of people sacrificed their lives?

... This raises another more general problem: the inability of the West to defend itself intellectually and culturally. Be proud, do not apologize. Do we have to go on apologizing for the sins our fathers? Do we still have to apologize, for example, for the British Empire, when, in fact, the British presence in India led to the Indian Renaissance, resulted in famine relief, railways, roads and irrigation schemes, eradication of cholera, the civil service, the establishment of a universal educational system where none existed before, the institution of elected parliamentary democracy and the rule of law? What of the British architecture of Bombay and Calcutta? The British even gave back to the Indians their own past: it was European scholarship, archaeology and research that uncovered the greatness that was India; it was British government that did its best to save and conserve the monuments that were a witness to that past glory. British Imperialism preserved where earlier Islamic Imperialism destroyed thousands of Hindu temples.

(via norm)

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Their oil, our weakness

Another very good essay by Victor Hanson Davis.

He says a lot about 'them', but more importantly, about 'us', and what we can do. He puts forward 3 fundamental policies: energy independence to drive down oil prices; no Middle East autocracy with nuclear weapons; support for democratic reform.

The most interesting parts are about our attitudes to action with regards to Islamic militancy, and about how it is our own dependence on the one resource the Middle East has that leads both to their extremism and to our pusillanimity.

Perhaps due to what might legitimately be called the lunacy principle ("these people are capable of doing anything at anytime"), the Muslim Middle East can insist on one standard of behavior for itself and quite another for others. It asks nothing of its own people and everything of everyone else's, while expecting no serious repercussions in the age of political correctness, in which affluent and leisured Westerners are frantic to avoid any disruption in their rather sheltered lives.

Rather, we should worry about the insatiable American demand that results in tight global supply for everyone, leading to high prices and petrobillions in the hands of otherwise-failed societies who use this largess for nefarious activities from buying nukes to buying off deserved censure from the West, India, and China. If the Middle East gets a pass on its terrorist behavior from the rest of the world, ultimately that exemption can be traced back to the voracious American appetite for imported oil, and its effects on everything from global petroleum prices to the appeasement of Islamic fascism.
(via Ninme)

American army, Abu Graib, war crimes

I'm a bit late on this one, but I've been away. While away, I got involved in an argument about the virtues and vices of the Pax Americana. Inevitably, Abu Graib came up. I wish I'd read this beforehand.

newsisyphus (who doesn't supply permalinks, for some reason - it's the post for the 1st of Feb) is talking about the involvement of Hugh Thompson, US Army, in the Mai Lai massacre in 1968, in which American soldiers killed over 500 Vietnamese civilians. Thompson, in the same area in a helicopter with a crew of two, saw something that didn't make sense: the corpses of Vietnamese villagers that he had previously marked to be flown out for medical treatment. New sisyphus quotes a CNN report.

"We just noticed a vast number of dead bodies: old women, old men, babies, infants that were dead or wounded", said Thompson, who was 24 at the time.
Thompson and his crew, 19-year-old gunner Larry Colburn and crew chief Glenn Andreotta, 18, flew closer to the ground and what they saw there confirmed their fears. They watched a fellow American shoot a Vietnamese woman at point-blank range.
Thompson landed his helicopter, determined to stop the killing. Then he and his crew did something that could have cost them their own lives or military careers: they turned their guns on fellow Americans and ordered them to stop shooting.
Link to an article from usnews about Hugh Thompson.

newsisyphus continues with a personal memory.
I will never forget the day, back when I was in U.S. Navy boot camp at Great Lakes RTC, when we seamen recruits received training on orders, what they mean, how to obey them, what to do when you are given contradictory orders and, most importantly, what to do when given illegal orders. It was explained to me then that an illegal order is not a proper order at all; it imposes no duty to obey. In fact, our instructor went on, the illegal order imposes a duty of a different sort: the duty not only to refuse to follow it but to take the officer or senior enlisted person who issued the illegal order under arrest, immediately and without question. Our instructor hammered home this point, even going so far as to make it clear that rank did not matter one bit in this calculation. If an admiral came by and ordered an E-3 to open fire for no legitimate reason on a civilian fishing boat, that E-3 was to place that admiral under arrest, right then, right there.
No-one could claim that Americans live up to this, but it would be reasonable to claim that a large number of them try to. The real point is, however, that when they act as Lt Calley did at Mai Lai, there are people willing to fight and report him; there are principles applied in law against which to judge him, and there is a functioning legal system that will prosecute him. It won't always happen, but it happens enough. Not enough to say that Americans are better people than others, which would be absurd, but enough to say that the American system is better than others.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Michael Yon's photo & copyright

There's no better measure of quality than the fact that everyone wants a bite of it. Michael Yon's photo, which I reproduced here, has evidently been distributed by the army in all sorts of ways that Michael had no control over. He is seeking redress, but not having a lot of luck.
Read about it at punditreview.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Australian history and fables of the fall

Australia is one of the most PC countries on the planet, and this is nowhere more evident than in the treatment of the British settlement. It is an unmissable opportunity for lyricism and eulogy (with regard to the aborigines) and for shame and self-loathing (that's for us white pigs).
Below is an example of the former (all the more attractive in that there is no way to confirm or deny this picture, rather like Adam and Eve).

"About three days in every week would be devoted to gathering your food," he says. "Hunting, collecting - a bit less in places of plenty, a bit more in the hard country. The rest of your time would be spent socialising, or in religious observances of different kinds." There is a "rich and complicated legal system" and the "children are more deeply loved than perhaps any children on earth".
Then, into this world comes the "white invader. Their first act is to say the land is terra nullius, that no one owns the land, that it is not used ... Thus begins the Australian Civil War."
From a History textbook for Australian High Schools

Janet Albrechtsen comments
This is ideology - inculcating a sense of shame in young students about Western civilisation.
There is no mention of British colonisation contributing anything much to Australia - no mention of civilised society or the rule of law. Instead, all the talk is of dark forces reaching Australian shores: forces that are individualistic and competitive and concerned with material gain. There are sneering references to Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Charles Darwin - as examples of Europeans who believed in the "superiority" of Western civilisation, over, say the hunter-gatherer existence of local indigenous people. Reading the text is like learning about Darwin's evolutionary theory in reverse gear. Progress is rather nasty and a source of embarrassment to the authors.
The article from the Australian is here.

Cartoons of Muhammad & standing up

“There is a lot at stake. It would be very naive to think this is only about Jyllands-Posten and 12 cartoons and apologising or not apologising.
“This is about standing for fundamental values that have been the (foundation) for the development of Western democracies over several hundred years, and we are now in a situation where those values are being challenged,” he said.
“I think some of the Muslims who have reacted very strongly to these cartoons are being driven by totalitarian and authoritarian impulses, and the nature of these impulses is that if you give in once they will just put forward new requirements.”
Flemming Rose, editor of Jyllands-Posten, publishers of the cartoons of he-who-must-not-be-mocked.
See also my post on Ayaan Hirsi Ali and multi-culturalism.
The article by Andrew Browne in Timesonline.